No Pain, No Gain


Jonah Charlton & Lia Kelly

Darius Johnson working with varsity team in his new role as “ambassador” after major injury to his femur.

Jonah Charlton and Chris Werner

One year ago today, ETHS faced New Trier in a rare Thursday night game at Lazier Field. In a close contest that would come down to the final minutes, linebacker Kameron Kull was chasing down the New Trier running back. Another Evanston defender attempted the tackle but couldn’t make the play. Kull leaped over the Evanston player, still in hot pursuit. As he landed on his right leg, it buckled and he went down.

It was the second time in his high school career that he’d torn his right ACL and for the second time, Kull opted to have ACL reconstruction surgery on Jan. 4, 2018.

After the successful surgery, Kull was left with a choice: hang up the cleats and avoid the risk of another injury to a now twice repaired knee or begin a grueling recovery process and hope to return to the field sometime during his senior season. For Kull, the decision could not have been easier.

“I have a very strong passion and love for the game,” Kull said. “I love my teammates and I love being with them and helping everyone succeed. It’s too hard being away from that.”

Kull’s 2017 ACL tear was one of the 37 reported injuries for the varsity football team that season.
In a midsummer practice, defensive end Aidan McMahon suffered one of the many injuries of the 2018 season. McMahon was involved in a play where his left shoulder was inadvertently pressed directly down upon; it was too much pressure for the joint to handle. The injury was diagnosed as a shoulder dislocation and McMahon rehabbed for a couple of weeks.

Later in the summer, the team traveled to a football camp at Illinois Wesleyan University. On the first day of camp, McMahon reinjured his shoulder.

“I was about to finish practice when a guy hit a pad I was holding and my entire shoulder blew out,” McMahon explained. “I ran to the trainer and one of the motions he had me do made it feel like my whole arm was going to pop out.”

The trainer diagnosed McMahon with a torn left labrum. After getting back results from an MRI screening, McMahon, with assistance from his parents and coaches, made the difficult decision to have season- ending surgery.
“At first, I wanted to be the athlete that grinds it out and keeps going,” McMahon said. “But then I thought about it and knew I should get the surgery so this doesn’t hold me back for my senior year.”

McMahon underwent a successful surgery on Aug. 23 and began physical therapy two weeks ago. Even after severe injury, McMahon has no intent to stop playing.

“I love the game too much to walk away,” McMahon explained. “I know the risks that come with playing but we work with the training staff and try to prevent them [injuries].”

Head coach Mike Burzawa and the rest of the staff understand that injuries are part of the game, but ETHS has a skilled staff of athletic trainers who deal with the players and their injuries.

“Fortunately, we have two great trainers here at the high school Khalia [Elliston] and Rob [Henderson],” Burzawa said. “And there are student trainers always at our practices.”

The training staff preaches a combination of ice, stretching and taping for injury prevention while working to educate athletes on signs of concussions and other common injuries.

Last year, the training staff acquired a set of NormaTec restoration units many football players have used this season.
“The NormaTecs definitely help to prevent muscle strains and other injuries that come from overuse,” Elliston explained. “The units compress and decompress like a blood pressure cuff and helps with muscle recovery in the body parts that players use it for.”

Many of today’s best athletes, including LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, use NormaTecs for personal rehab on their off days.

Even though the trainers see the injuries, the worst part of football, they have seen steady improvement through the years regarding the safety of the game.

“In years prior, it was a really rough sport,” Elliston said. “There was not a lot of medical help around, but I think with so much of the research coming out these and the science too. They’re changing football as a sport to make it safer.”

Senior defensive back, Luke Jensen, has added a cast on his right hand to ensure his safety for the first few games of the season. Jensen, too, got hurt before the first game of the season when he broke the thumb on his right hand during a practice on Aug. 15, when his hand hit another player’s helmet. Jensen was lucky, if his break had been a mere four centimeters lower, the injury would have required season-ending surgery.

“The doctors said in a perfect world, I wouldn’t be playing,” Jensen explained. “But it is my senior year and my thumb wasn’t quite broken enough to where it was dangerous so they thought it would be okay for me to still play.”
The decision to play through an injury may be a tough one for some players, but for Jensen it was a no brainer.

“This season is all I have left,” Jensen said. “I’ve worked really hard this offseason and I didn’t want to throw that away.”

While players like Jensen, Kull and McMahon as well as the vast majority of players who’ve suffered injuries were able to return to the field, others were not granted that opportunity.

In a 2017 summer practice, wide receiver Darius Johnson was running a deep post route and dove to catch the pass. Both his own weight, and that of his defender fell on his right leg. Johnson broke his femur on the play and had surgery soon after, where a titanium rod was inserted into his leg.

After months on crutches, Johnson’s leg was fully healed in March 2018 and he resumed football activities.

“During my third evaluation in June, the doctor heard I was playing football he told me it wasn’t smart, nor worth it,” Johnson said. “He told me that if I was hit in my leg the wrong way, it could lead to me become paralyzed.”

Shortly after, Johnson made the decision to stop playing and take on a new role with the team.

“I’m an ambassador of sorts,” Johnson explained. “Someone who still is around the guys, talking to the coaches, going to practice is here and there, speaking to the team, and just being around and supporting my guys. Being a motivator and representing the ETHS football team in the process.”

Since a potential re-injury to Kull’s ACL would not be life-altering, like one to Johnson’s femur, Kull had the opportunity to begin the long rehabilitation process with hopes of coming back again for his senior season.
Less than nine months after his second surgery, senior captain Kameron Kull made his long-awaited return to the field on Sept. 7 at home against Conant.

After starting the game on the sideline, Kull entered in the second quarter quickly making his relentless presence felt. He recorded a sack and helped the Evanston defense limit the Cougars to just seven points in the win.

“It felt great,” Kull said. “Something I learned from my dad is everyday you have to come out and prove yourself. I really wanted to do that and I did. It just felt awesome.”